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Lancet calls for drugs reclassification

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Research from today's Lancet magazine suggests a better way to categorise drugs based on the harm they do to the user and to society more widely.

Drugs in the UK are classified as A, B or C, and punishment, as well as treatment, varies accordingly.

The researchers looked at 20 drugs and asked two separate groups of experts to rank them according to harm. Drugs were considered for the physical harm caused - immediate effects, consquences of repeated use, and specific problems caused by injecting drugs.

Physical and pyschological dependence were considered as was the harm drugs do to society. Harm to society included the impact of intoxification and related health-care costs. Tobacco fared badly under this metric - 40 per cent of all hospital illness and 60 per cent of drug-related fatalities are down to the demon weed.

Two groups of experts rated the drugs. One was made up of consultant psychiatrists registered as specialists in addiction with the Royal Society of Psychiatrists. The second group were more varied experts from fields including chemistry, pharmacology, as well as the police and legal services. Both groups broadly agreed in their assessment of the drugs considered.

The final list put heroin at the top, alcohol was in fourth place, ketamine in fifth, and tobacco in sixth. Cocaine was at number two followed by barbiturates. Cannabis kept its mid-rank position at number 11. Bringing up the rear were khat or qat in 20th place and alkyl nitrites (poppers) in 19th.

Ecstasy was the third least dangerous drug, according to researchers.

Researchers did not make any claim for a new way of classifying drugs, but did note: "The results of this study do not provide justification for the sharp A, B, or C divisions of the current classifications in the UK Misuse of Drugs Act.

"Interestingly, alcohol and tobacco are both in the top ten, higher-harm group. There is a rapidly accelerating harm value from alcohol upwards. So, if a three-category classification were to be retained, one possible interpretation of our findings is that drugs with harm scores equal to that of alcohol and above might be class A, cannabis and those below might be class C, and drugs in between might be class B."

The full article is available at Lancet, but you will need to register.®

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